Clause 99

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 19th February 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Liberal Democrat, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 12:00 pm, 19th February 2008

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Member for Eastbourne is not enjoying the Committee’s deliberations. Perhaps time slowing down means that he wants to spend more time in these sittings. Certainly, the record of the number of 100th birthdays in his constituency suggests that time there is speeding up, so there is a balance to be struck somewhere.

Dressed up as a technical clause, this raises an important point, rightly lighted upon by the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to repeat his remarks, as he made many of the points that I had intended to make. However, the key word in relation to the clause is “prudent”.

The report released this week, which is now a matter out for consultation from the regulator, suggests that the regulator is doing its own work on what it considers to be prudent. Does that mean, should the clause be enacted, that the regulator will therefore effectively determine the actuarial considerations each scheme should make? Or is it a slightly looser arrangement, under which the regulator has the power to determine the prudence of the actuarial considerations? That does not mean that they have to be exactly along the lines of the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave, which have been reported quite widely this week. But, for example, a pension scheme, that made actuarial assumptions higher or lower than those made on the national average could, none the less, justify those assumptions as being prudent on the basis of its team members’ knowledge.

It would seem not quite right that uniform actuarial assumptions should be imposed by the regulator across all pension schemes. However, it is sensible and necessary, given the content of the European law, that there should be an ability to determine whether the actuarial assumptions made by the scheme are prudent.

I note, in closing, that the work of the Pensions Regulator on understanding the extent to which life expectancy is increasing has not only an implication for pension schemes in the private sector, which the clause refers to, but a significant effect on the liabilities of public sector pension schemes. That is a matter that is debated and highlighted all too rarely by Ministers. Information was recently brought forward, or at least endorsed, by the Government on the work of the Institute for Fiscal Studies on a rough estimate of unfunded public sector pension liabilities. Given that, if the new actuarial considerations were applied to public  sector pension liabilities what greater extent would the Minister see those liabilities taking? There is also a massive implication for the public purse that is being swept under the carpet, and I would welcome his comments on that. While the debate concerns a technical point, it has much broader implications across the public and private sectors.